Changing makeup of state legislatures

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Democrats, women, and blacks will be more plentiful and perhaps more influential when state legislatures reconvene in 1983.

All three of these groups, particularly the first two, were among the big winners after the Nov. 2 election.

Democrats, for example, not only captured at least 175 more state senate and house or assembly seats. Their party also controls 72 of the 99 state legislative chambers nationwide.

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Women state lawmakers, who now have more than tripled their ranks over the past decade and a half, have picked up an additional 61 seats, bringing their total to a record 966.

Blacks, with 17 more legislative chairs next January than in 1982, have doubled their numbers from 168 to 338 in state lawmaking chambers since 1969.

However, despite majorities in 11 more lawmaking bodies next year, Democrats will control fewer than in the post-Watergate era of the mid-1970s, when the GOP's ranks were considerably thinned.

Women and blacks, too, scored bigger gains at the state level in several past elections. The biggest single increase for blacks was 50 in 1972; for women, it was 174 in 1974.

Although hardly approaching a dominant position in terms of numbers, the increased legislative strength of women and blacks can be expected in some states to focus greater attention on women's rights, human services, and employment opportunities.

While pleased with the modest gains, activists in both groups, including Lyn Olson, of the National Women's Education Fund, and Thomas Cavanagh, of the Joint Center for Political Studies, note that the gains are small in relation to the total number of state lawmaking seats.

Women, who comprise 51.4 percent of the nation's population, will hold only 13 percent of the nation's 7,435 seats. Blacks, 11.8 percent of the US population, will occupy 4.5 percent of the total legislative chairs. It had been 4.3 percent two years ago.

Women lawmaker ranks will increase in at least 27 states. The biggest gains are: 10 in Florida, 8 in Massachusetts, 7 in Maryland, and 5 each in Indiana and New York.

This is partially offset by a decline of five seats in Illinois, where a recent change in the state constitution pared the number of state representatives by 57.

Leaders of the National Organization for Women are particularly elated over the success of their efforts in behalf of women legislative candidates in several states. These include Florida and Illinois, two states that refused to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to the US Constitution.

In Florida, the number of women state senators increased from 4 to 9, and in Illinois, women in the upper legislative chamber will rise from 4 to 7 come January.

Of some 1,600 female legislative candidates running this year, 908 - more than one half - were elected. In addition, there are 58 holdovers - lawmakers whose terms still have one or two years to go.

The largest women's delegations are in Connecticut, with 44 women (23.5 percent of the 187-member Legislature), and in New Hampshire, with 119 (28.8 percent of the 424 lawmakers).

The 337 black state legislators sitting next year include 287 newcomers or reelected lawmakers, plus 50 holdovers. There were 366 black candidates this year.

Blacks gained seats in 11 states. The largest gains in black representation were 9 in North Carolina (from 4 to 13), 7 in Florida (from 5 to 12), 5 in South Carolina (from 15 to 20), 4 in Alabama (from 16 to 20), and 4 in Pennsylvania (from 14 to 18).

These were partially offset by losses in 13 states. But in only three - Illinois, Missouri, and Maryland - did losses exceed one seat. In Illinois, the slippage of 6 (from 21 to 15) resulted from the reduced size of the lower legislative chamber.

Only a dozen states - most of them in northern New England, the Plains and Rocky Mountain sections where there are few blacks - will be without one or more black legislators in the coming year.

All but two of the 99 state lawmaking chambers (Nebraska has a single-branch legislature) will have at least one female member, the exceptions being the Louisiana and Mississippi senates. And in neither state were there legislative elections this year.

Michigan, which in recent years has had an all-male Senate, elected two women - Republican Connie Binsfeld and Democrat Lana Pollack - to that 38-seat chamber. The Alabama Senate, with 35 seats, will see its all-male makeup end, when newly elected Republican Ann Bedsole steps into that chamber.

With a few legislative contests still undecided, Democrats hold a 4,647-to-2, 722-seat advantage over Republicans. This is at least a 175-seat net gain for the Democrats.

Democrats held onto all 61 lawmaking chambers it controlled before Nov. 2 and picked up 11 others - the Iowa and Washington senates and houses plus the Maine and Ohio senates, and the Delaware, Illinois, Montana, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania houses.

Both chambers in 10 states - Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and Wyoming - will retain their GOP reins, as will the Montana, New York, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania senates, and the Alaska House.

The Alaska Senate, it appears, will remain tied and the unicameral Nebraska Legislature is nonpartisan.

Blacks and women in state legislatures Blacks Pcnt. Women pcnt. chg. chg. 1969 168 305 1971 188 11.9 334 9.5 1973 238 26.6 457 36. 8 1975 276 16.0 610 33.5 1977 295 6.9 688 12.8 1979 307 4.1 774 12.5 1981 318 3.6 887 14.6 1983 337 6.0 966 8.9

Controlling state legislatures* Democrats Republicans Split 1971 23 16 9 1973 27 16 6 1975 37 5 7 1977 36 5 8 1979 30 12 7 1981 28 13 8 1983 34 10 5 * Totals less than 50 because Nebraska has a unicameral legislature

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